Antoine de Bourbon, Archduke Ernst of Austria, Catholic League, House of Guise, House of Lorraine, King Henri IV of France and Navarre, Pope Clement VIII, Pope Sixtus V, Princess Elisabeth de Valois, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Queen Joan III of Navarre, Siege of Paris 1590
From the Emperor’s Desk: On anniversary of the birth of King Henri IV of France and Navarre, I will focus on his difficult accession to the French throne.
Henri IV (December 13, 1553 – May 14, 1610) was King of Navarre (as Henri III) from 1572 and as King Henri IV of France from 1589 to 1610. He was the first monarch of France from the House of Bourbon, a cadet branch of the Capetian Dynasty. He was assassinated in 1610 by François Ravaillac, a Catholic zealot, and was succeeded by his son Louis XIII.
Henri de Bourbon was born in Pau, the capital of the joint Kingdom of Navarre with the sovereign principality of Béarn. His parents were Queen Joan III of Navarre (Jeanne d’Albret) and her husband, Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme, King of Consort of Navarre.
Although technically Antoine de Bourbon was a King Consort he did rule Navarre via Jure uxoris (a Latin phrase meaning “by right of (his) wife”) which describes a title of nobility used by a man because his wife holds the office or title suo jure (“in her own right”).
Although baptised as a Catholic, Henri was raised as a Protestant by his mother, who had declared Calvinism the religion of Navarre. As a teenager, Henri joined the Huguenot forces in the French Wars of Religion. On June 9, 1572, upon his mother’s death, the 19-year-old became King Henri III of Navarre.
When Henri III of France died, King Henri III of Navarre nominally, and technically, became King Henri IV of France. The Catholic League, however, strengthened by support from outside the country—especially from Spain—was strong enough to prevent a universal recognition of his new title.
Pope Sixtus V excommunicated Henri and declared him devoid of any right to inherit the crown. Most of the Catholic nobles who had joined Henri III of Navarre for the siege of Paris also refused to recognize the claim of Henri III of Navarre, and abandoned him.
King Henri IV set about winning his kingdom by military conquest, aided by English money and German troops. Henry IV’s Catholic uncle Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon was proclaimed King Charles X by the Catholic League, but the Cardinal was Henry IV’s prisoner at the time.
Henry IV was victorious at the Battle of Arques and the Battle of Ivry, but failed to take Paris after besieging it in 1590.
When Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon died in 1590, the League could not agree on a new candidate. While some supported various Guise candidates, the strongest candidate was probably the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain, the daughter of Felipe II of Spain, whose mother Princess Elisabeth de Valois, had been the eldest daughter of King Henri II of France and Catherine de’ Medici.
In the religious fervor of the time, the Catholic Infanta was recognized to be a suitable candidate, provided that she marry a suitable husband. The French overwhelmingly rejected Felipe II’s first choice, Archduke Ernst of Austria, son of Emperor Maximilian II, and brother of Emperors Rudolph II and Matthias, also a member of the House of Habsburg.
In case of such opposition, Felipe II indicated that princes of the House of Lorraine would be acceptable to him: the Duke of Guise; a son of the Duke of Lorraine; and the son of the Duke of Mayenne.
The House of Lorraine (German: Lothringen) originated as a cadet branch of the House of Metz which ruled Lorraine between 1048 to 1453. It inherited the Duchy of Lorraine in 1473 after the death without a male heir of Nicholas I, Duke of Lorraine.
The Spanish ambassadors selected Henri I, Duke of Guise, to the joy of the League. However, at that moment of seeming victory, the envy of the Duke of Mayenne was aroused, and he blocked the proposed election of a king.
The House of Guise was founded as a cadet branch of the House of Lorraine by Claude of Lorraine (1496–1550), who entered French service and was made the first Duke of Guise by King Francis I in 1527. The family’s high rank was due not to possession of the Guise dukedom but to their membership in a sovereign dynasty, which procured for them the rank of prince étranger at the royal court of France.
The problems with the House of Lorraine and Guise as far as succession rights to the French throne were concerned, was that neither were collateral branches of the Capetian Dynasty and therefore had no legal claim to the throne. However, there was nothing preventing them from overthrowing the old dynasty in favor of a new dynasty.
However, despite the interference of the Spanish King with the French succession, the Parlement of Paris also upheld the Salic law. They argued that if the French accepted natural hereditary succession, as proposed by the Spaniards, and accepted a woman as their queen, then the ancient claims of the English kings would be confirmed, and the monarchy of centuries past would be nothing but an illegality.
The Parlement admonished Mayenne, as lieutenant-general, that the kings of France had resisted the interference of the pope in political matters, and that he should not raise a foreign prince or princess to the throne of France under the pretext of religion. Mayenne was angered that he had not been consulted prior to this admonishment, but yielded, since their aim was not contrary to his present views.
Despite these setbacks for the League, King Henri IV remained unable to take control of Paris.
On July 25, 1593, with the encouragement of his mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées, Henri permanently renounced Protestantism and converted to Catholicism in order to secure his hold on the French crown, thereby earning the resentment of the Huguenots and his former ally Queen Elizabeth I of England.
Henri was said to have declared that Paris vaut bien une messe (“Paris is well worth a mass”), although there is some doubt whether he said this, or whether the statement was attributed to him by his contemporaries. His acceptance of Catholicism secured the allegiance of the vast majority of his subjects.
Coronation and recognition (1594–1595)
Since Reims, traditional coronation place of French kings, was still occupied by the Catholic League, Henri IV was crowned King of France at the Cathedral of Chartres on February 27, 1594. Pope Clement VIII lifted excommunication from Henri on September 17, 1595.
King Henri IV did not forget his former Calvinist coreligionists, however, and was known for his religious tolerance. In 1598 he issued the Edict of Nantes, which granted circumscribed toleration to the Huguenots.